How Storytelling Makes Data More Powerful

February 4, 2016 Mark Emmons


Every deal has a story to tell.

And figuring out that tale is why sharp marketers are so focused on analyzing any scrap of reporting information that they can gather to better understand the effectiveness of their campaigns. What worked? What can be tweaked? What should be abandoned?

Pulling together all the pieces of the puzzle is the only way to truly understand the modern buyer’s journey in the maze-like B2B sales cycle. But making them fit together is only half the battle for marketing teams.

You also have to tell the story.

“It’s easy to forget that part,” said Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing. “Sometimes marketers can tie themselves in knots with all of the numbers. They’re going to confuse and frustrate people who can’t read them as well as they do. That’s why storytelling is important. It’s so important to be smart about the story that you’re explaining.”

Marketing attribution is complicated stuff. In the effort to explain Return on Investment (ROI), data can become very complex, very quickly. Much can be lost in translation as marketers attempt to coherently explain their impact on the business.

drowning in data

Drowning in data

That’s why it’s good to remember these words of advice from noted tech entrepreneur Chris Sacca: “Good stories always beat good spreadsheets.” Or maybe it’s a case of how adding the right words can make the numbers more powerful.

Cold, hard numbers help marketers validate their influence, justify budget and maybe even live happily ever after. But those figures can also be a doubled-edged sword because modern marketers are awash in analytical information. Yes, data answers questions. But you also have to ask a couple questions of your own as you try to put the numbers in a human context.

  • What does this mean?
  • Why does this matter?

You need to connect the dots. B2B marketers are experts in building persuasive cases why potential customers must have whatever the heck they’re selling. But as the world of attribution becomes ever more complex, marketers must be equally adept at weaving together a compelling tale for an internal audience. People are not going to “buy in” if they don’t know what the numbers represent.

“The more data you have, the more complicated it becomes and the less likely that it will add up to something that makes sense in simple mathematical terms,” Heinz added. “We need to be able to tell stories that create leverage with our audience to take action. But internally, you also need to be able to take this more complex set of data and be able to tell a clear and actionable story about what to do with it.”

Marketing has become an exercise in balancing art and science. And attribution is a perfect example of how those two skill sets must be blended together. Crunching the numbers can provide real insights on how best to help move your business forward. Then you have to spell out what the information means.

And it needs to be an authentic story that marketers share with their colleagues on the sales team, executives and maybe even the company board.

Scott Brinker, the chief technical officer at ion interactive, has been a leading voice stressing the need for businesses to adapt to the rapid emergence of MarTech tools. Relying on gut-based decisions is “foolish” in the digital age, Brinker wrote on his blog. But he added that it’s important to use data to support a narrative and not make it fit one.


Keep calm and use data wisely

“Marketers are storytellers and that’s generally a good thing,” Brinker explained. “Data can be used to make stories more compelling. But, since we can subjectively choose how to interpret data, we can invent almost any narrative we want around it. . . . It helps to keep perspective: any story presented around data is never the only story that could be told about it.”

But the only way to move the business forward is to use your reporting to find the most relevant information that provides real clarity into the effectiveness of your campaigns.

“If you’re manipulating the data to achieve a specific point of view, that’s defeating the entire point of being a data-driven marketer,” said Adam New-Waterson, the chief marketing officer at LeanData. “This is not about telling the story you want to sell. It’s telling the story that your data shows. There’s a huge difference.”

Better numbers can result in better decisions. That’s the exciting part of this new era of marketing. But it’s just as important to remember that you paint a picture that holds everyone’s attention and makes them understand the impact of your work.

In other words, basic English can be a data-savvy marketer’s best friend.


Cracking the Attribution Code

Marketing teams are under more pressure than ever to quantify their influence and justify budgets. At a time when marketers are expected to prove Return on Investment, LeanData is exploring the challenges they face and how it is possible to improve account reporting.


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